Checking in on Two Improving Hurlers: Manaea and Bundy

His rookie season didn’t get off to a good start, but Sean Manaea has pitched much better since making a change to how he throws his changeup. Eno tweeted a pic of the old and new grip in late May. The lefty’s 5.24 ERA is bloated due to his first three starts prior to throwing his new changeup, but he’s been fairly good since. Dylan Bundy has battled injuries and totaled 65.1 innings — this total includes his Arizona Fall League work in 2015 — from 2014-2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 26, 2013. The righty isn’t likely to be a major impact player the remainder of the year, but he could help a bit and his keeper-league stock is up.

Sean Manaea – SP – Oakland Athletics (CBS: 34%, ESPN: 7.1%, Yahoo!: 6%)

In Manaea’s first three starts, he allowed 16 earned runs in 12.2 innings and tallied a putrid 11.37 ERA. Yikes. The A’s were patient, and the patience they’ve showcased has paid off. The lefty moved to his new changeup grip prior to a start against the Rangers on May 16th. He held the Rangers to just one earned run on four hits and one walk with three strikeouts in 6.2 innings. The Yankees knocked him around for five earned runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6.2 innings in his next turn, but it’s been more good than bad from Manaea since altering his changeup grip.

In nine starts since adjusting his grip, he’s pitched 54.1 innings to the tune of a 3.81 ERA, 3.84 FIP and 4.41 xFIP with a 1.23 WHIP, 6.6% walk rate and 19.7% strikeout rate. The strikeout rate belies his bat-missing ability. In that same time frame, he owns a 11.6% SwStr%, and hitters are fishing out of the strike-zone regularly. The league average O-Swing% in 2016 is 29.5%, and Manaea’s mark is 35.3% in his last nine starts. To put his 11.6% SwStr% in perspective, it matches Madison Bumgarner’s on the year, and Bumgarner ranks 12th among qualified pitchers in SwStr%. If he continues to miss bats at his current rate, I’d be shocked if his strikeout rate doesn’t sit above the league average of 21.0% the rest of the season.

Manaea’s new changeup grip has grabbed headlines, but his slider has changed dramatically, too. In his first three starts, the slider averaged 77.7 mph, but in his last nine times on the bump, the velo has jumped to 80.4 mph and the horizontal and vertical movement have notably changed as well. The 24-year-old is featuring a much different pitch mix since stumbling out of the blocks. In his first three starts, he threw his slider 28.1% of the time and his changeup just 8.9% of the time. In his last nine starts, he’s thrown his slider just 10.8% of the time and his new-and-improved changeup 29.2% of the time. Since May 16th, the slider and the changeup each feature a whiff percentage around 18.5%, according Brooks Baseball. Each can be used as a put-away pitch, and I’d hypothesize that pitch sequencing is what’s holding back his strikeout rate currently since his SwStr% and pair of out pitches give him the goods needed to best the league average in strikeout rate. If you need some pitching help in 12-team mixed leagues or deeper, Manaea’s worth rostering and comes with upside. Be aware that his innings could be limited down the stretch. Last year — including the Arizona Fall League — he pitched 100 innings, and thus far this year, he’s pitched 88.2 innings.

Dylan Bundy – SP(ESPN)/RP – Baltimore Orioles (CBS: 12%, ESPN: 3.0%, Yahoo!: 2%)

Bundy is unlikely to move the needle much in re-draft leagues, but gamers in keeper leagues should take note of what he’s been up to lately. Investing in a pitcher with the injury history Bundy has in a keeper league comes with risk, but the cost of rostering him isn’t likely to be that expensive. In an active 15-team mixed auction league in which gamers can keep up to 15 players, I was able to claim Bundy for $0 on July 7th. Given his ownership rates, I’d guess he’s floating around in many free-agent pools.

I claimed him immediately following an impressive relief appearance on July 6th in which he recorded all seven outs in 2.1 innings of relief via strikeouts. He did yield three hits and a pair of walks, but the strikeouts were eye catching and prompted me to dig into his numbers a bit. The righty has made six straight scoreless appearances in which he’s totaled 14.1 innings. The O’s have tweaked how they’ve handled him out of the bullpen, and he’s flourished with the change. Early in the year, he was making short relief appearances that were more closely clustered. Since the beginning of June, he’s been on more of a starter’s schedule out of the bullpen working more than two innings in six of seven appearances, and he’s had at least three days off between each of those appearances.

The results are encouraging. He’s totaled 17 innings allowing just two earned runs (1.06 ERA, 1.65 FIP and 3.23 xFIP) on 16 hits and four walks (5.6% walk rate and 1.18 WHIP) with 22 strikeouts (30.6% strikeout rate). The strikeout rate is fueled by a 11.0% SwStr%. The extra rest between appearances appears to be helping his heater, too. In April and May, his fastball averaged 93.1 mph, but since the calendar flipped to June, it’s averaging 94.9 mph. He’s set new fastball velocity highs in his last two appearances lighting up the gun with an average velocity of 95.9 mph on June 30th and averaging 96.1 mph on July 6th. The extra heat is resulting in less contact. Prior to June, his fourseam fastball had a 7.5% whiff rate, per Brooks Baseball. Since June, he’s blowing the fourseam fastball by hitters with a 12.97% whiff rate.

The extra ticks may also deserve credit for his changeup’s improvement avoiding lumber. In April and May, the changeup had a strong 23.94% whiff rate. Since June, he’s sporting an amazing 31.71% whiff rate on the change and throwing it 13.67% of the time. His curve doesn’t miss many bats, but he’s yet to allow an extra base hit on it this season. Steve Melewski of MASN wrote about Bundy on Wednesday, and his article is worth a read. It’s made clear that the organization continues to view him as a starter long term, and Buck Showalter speculated that Bundy could add his slider/cutter back to his pitch mix next year.

Within the article, it’s also made clear the O’s will handle Bundy carefully, but his innings cap isn’t entirely clear. Showalter threw a 60 to 75 innings limit out there, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette wouldn’t commit to a firm innings limit. Bundy wouldn’t commit to a magic number that he’d shut it down at, either. In leagues deeper than 12-team mixers, Bundy might have some value as a source of strikeout help this season. I’m most interested in Bundy in keeper leagues, though, and if you’re in a league where starters carrying relief pitcher eligibility have extra value, that’s a bonus for the young righty.

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the O’s announced today that Bundy will start against the Rays on Sunday